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Quilting the big quilt

My quilting station is organised. The quilt is so huge that I am using all of our dining table and the sofa in front of it to drape the thing over and keep it as flat as possible.

I have started in the middle and shoved half of the quilt under the arm of the sewing machine so that I can smooth out any lumps and bumps towards the edges as I go along.

My thread spool is too big to be held tightly on the machine, so I have put it in a cup which is just about as wide as the bottom of the spool. I just rested it on top of the machine and amazingly it stays where it is while I am sewing.

I have a pot to hand to stash the safety pins in as I take them out when I have quilted a section of the quilt and also my trusty rubber gloves with the fingertips cut off to help me glide the quilt smoothly as I free-motion quilt.

I’m all ready to go!


The small armchair is finished

The first piece of fabric to be secured was the bit covering the seat and the front of the chair. Then I moved onto the arms.

After securing the sides of the chair cover over the arms and underneath the chair frame with staples, I grabbed part of this piece of fabric from the back of the chair to pull it tightly and fix it. There wasn’t quite enough of the fabric to staple securely, so I tacked a piece on (the bit you can see me holding) and sewed a length of cord onto a very tiny piece to help me yank it through from the front.


One of the next jobs was to sew the two sections together with an invisible ladder stitch into the seam with the piping. You can’t see my stitches, can you? That’s because they’re invisible.

I may only use ladder stitch ever again on every project from now on. I have grown to love it.


In order to get a straight seam along the back of the chair, I used a length of thick cardboard tape, which I stapled to the top of the chair. I covered it with a bit of polyester to smooth out the edges before flipping the fabric over and revealing a beautiful seam in which all of the squares in the pattern lined up (this took a very long time to get right).

I then ladder stitched the back panel to the chair using a curved needle and working a little way down one side, then switching to the other so that the seams were even and the tension equal on both sides. I had to use three panels of fabric for the back panel, to use up bits I had left over. I am very pleased that I was able to match these squares up too.

After having secured the cover (I know I make this sound easy; it actually took a lot of hours and much unpicking of staples and re-stretching of fabric), it was time for the fun jobs of making a piped cushion with welts for the seat of the chair and a mini piped scatter cushion for my son’s back (and stapling black bottoming onto the, er, bottom)…



It's finished! It just needs its feet.

It’s finished! It just needs its feet.


Making a cushion for the seat


A reminder of how it used to look

Quilting again

Hurrah! Posh new sewing machine has arrived and I can get on with quilting my first quilt.

Here’s a practice piece before I start on the real thing. It’s a tiny dolly’s quilt that I made for my son.

Notice the low-tech quilting glove solution to help me glide the quilt around as I free-motion quilt.

Beginning to upholster the little armchair


I have had a few weeks away from upholstery so I could concentrate on getting underway with some Christmas presents (no photos of those yet, for obvious reasons!), but this week I have got on pleasingly well with my son’s chair.

Firstly, I stripped the child’s armchair of all of its original fabric, removing as many staples as possible.


Next, I tucked a piece of the new fabric into the seat, making some snips at the front of the seat so that the fabric would fit around the wood of the chair’s arm. The tails at the back and front are long enough to staple onto the wood of the frame later.


After that, a piece of fabric went over the back of the chair, again, with strategic snips around the back of the arm so that it could be wedged neatly around the foam.

This piece was tricky as I had to ensure that the lines of the pattern were all straight enough so that the arms looked even.

No idea why I chose patterned fabric for my first upholstery project. I have no excuses as I was warned.


Here’s the back, stapled securely with pleated curves.

It looks very uneven here as my main concern was to get the line of the pattern straight across the top of the chair, while pulling the fabric tightly enough so that there would be no sagging later.

You can also see bits of fabric poking through from the seat piece and also from the bottom of this back piece.


This picture shows you where I have to work when I am not in the workshop: sharing table space with my little boy and his toys. He knows by now not to touch any pointy or bladed things.

I made piping from scrappy bits of fabric joined together at 45 degree angles.


Here’s the piping casing all pinned and ready to sew. I really needed a zipper foot attachment for this job so that I could get my line of sewing as close to the piping as possible. My zipper foot didn’t fit the sewing machine, though, so I just used a straight stitch foot, wedging the piping cord underneath the foot in rather an unsafe and uncontrollable manner.

Seems to have done the job.


The exciting bit – sewing the piping into the arm covers. I worked from the top right corner of the arm first, sewing straight down to the bottom of the chair.

The next bit was quite awkward. I had to sew each section of the cover individually, measuring (very carefully) each time. It wasn’t enough to make sure that the cover fitted the arm and the corner was perfect, but I also had to continually check that all the squares of the pattern lined up and also that grain of the squares faced in the right direction.

I found myself asking again why I had not chosen a plain piece of fabric. Oh, and there was also a little swearing here, too.


The finished arm pieces are now all ready to be stapled into place. I’m very pleased with myself and looking forward to tacking it all down.

My boy keeps saying “when are you going to mend my chair?”

Shouldn’t take too long now!


I’m going to be brave…

I have just quilted this practice piece in a sort of loopy pattern with a couple of points to get back to where I needed to.

The tension was right, so the back looks just the same as the front. I wore washing up gloves, which made it easier to keep the action smooth.

Wish me luck as I take the plunge and start on the real quilt!

Final preparations for quilting

Here’s an insight into the jobs I have done in the days between finishing my patchwork quilt top and getting to the point at which I can start quilting.

Saving time by not caring about seam allowances for once

Turn nine metres of blue vintagey floral fabric into a 2.6 metre square for the back of my quilt.

I did this fairly quickly, not worrying too much about perfect right angles or cutting selveges off. To me, this was one of the most tedious jobs of the whole project. However, I saved time by not caring about seam allowances for once.

Sewing long lines of straight stitches is not what I started a quilt for.


Lay backing fabric on floor (wrong side down) after pressing seams.

You can see that even by moving a sofa and turning a TV unit around, I could not fit the whole thing so that it lay completely flat with space to move around it in my sitting room.

I did consider doing this job in my classroom, as there is nobody at work in the summer except caretakers and seagulls.  In the end I decided I would pretend I had enough space at home, even if half of the quilt was on carpet (not ideal for basting with safety pins) and half on the wooden floor (much better for basting).

Lie flat, will you?

Lie batting on top of the backing fabric, then quilt top on top to make a ‘quilt sandwich’. Pat it down to make sure it is all flat and then baste it with safety pins.

I thought this part was going to take me a really long time and used my son’s (precious) one day of the week at nursery to do this. Actually it only took two hours. I worked from the centre to make sure I could smooth any ripples out as I went along.


Check that the basted quilt fits under the arm of my machine.

It does.

Ill-fitting darning foot

Check that the darning foot my husband chiselled so that it would attach to my machine actually works on my machine.

It doesn’t.

Look at that enormous space between the foot and the fabric. The needle will bounce up and down uncontrollably and the stitches will be all over the place and non-uniform.

This is a bad thing.

Checking whether the quilt fits under the arm of my friend's tiny machine

Swap to the very small machine lent to me by a kind friend and check that the quilt also fits under that arm.

It does, much to my surprise! Hooray!

This is a far better machine than mine and should make the quilting entirely hassle-free once I have read the 90-page manual to teach myself how to use it…

WP_20130815_001 (1)

Watch lots of quilting tutorial videos and practise different patterns.

Here you can see my frankly laughable first attempts at stipple, pointed stipple, paisley and repeating shells.

I felt I was getting the hang of it as I filled up the last section of my practice quilt sandwich, and was silently congratulating myself on having chosen the right upper thread tension and needle (after snapping three. Yes, three.) to match the thread, when I turned it over and found…



I am utterly confused.

When the upper thread tension was really high (7) the stitches on the back were perfect, but the needles snapped. When the tension was really low (2), the quilting action was smoother and my wrists ached less, but this happened to the thread.

Go to see the experts and look at lots of their perfect quilts.

I went to my first Quilters’ Guild event today and the guru there told me to keep the tension low. She checked that I was using the right needles and thread. She gave me lots of confidence about using the stipple pattern and told me how large to scale it and how to practically fit such a big quilt onto a table and around the side of my sewing machine. She invited me along to monthly meetings. She laughed at my little boy’s burblings.

I felt I was high and dry and all I needed was to get home, switch on the fancy new machine and start stippling.

Mope around a little longer with an unfinished quilt.

Sadly, the title of this post turns out to be incorrect. I am going to have to make my final final preparations for quilting after even more practice quilt sandwiches.

Admit to everyone that the members of my family are all obsessed by little squares.

My poor two year-old. I have damaged him by taking him along to a Quilters’ Guild event. When we got home, he arranged his blocks in his block cart and said, “this is my quilt”.

My husband’s artwork uses small, colourful squares with lines of poetry on them that can be rearranged by the reader/viewer to create their own poems.

My quilt is is made of hundreds of little squares.

What is to become of us?

Evidence of my little square-obsessed family

Evidence of my little square-obsessed family

Jim jams to match my quilt

I ordered far too much fabric for the quilt back and found that even after I had stitched a 2.6 metre square of it together, I had enough left over to make a pair of pyjama bottoms for myself. I am looking forward to co-ordinating with my patchwork quilt top and also to being able to lie, entirely undetected, on the quilt back.

Some might say that faffing around with floral pyjamas is a waste of time when I have a quilt to, erm, quilt.

I would generally agree.

However, I am having rather a frustrating time getting myself organised for the quilting and have been unable to properly kit my sewing machine out with the correct darning foot. So, while waiting for things to arrive and having basted the quilt top to the batting and quilt back in only a couple of hours after expecting it to take all day, I found I had quite enough time to make a cheeky pair of PJs.

Just got to stitch this lot together now

Ready to sandwich

Ready to sandwich

Stitchers have friends too

My friend and I had no idea when we were performance poetry-obsessed, urban Uni flatmates that thirteen years later we would choose to sit inside on a sunny afternoon by the coast, each with an embroidery hoop, rather than swim in the sea or build castles on the beach.

Here we are, though, having a whale of a time. She’s making an incredibly detailed cross stitch picture based on a Victorian wallpaper. I’m embroidering a toy patchwork tortoise shell for my son. Both are far more useful to the world than performance poetry. Discuss.

Embroidery friends

Embroidery friends

Embroidered tortoise shell

My embroidered tortoise shell

My friend’s cross stitch

My son more-or-less demanded that I make him a patchwork tortoise after he helped me so expertly to wrap one up for a new baby last week. That was the second one he has seen leave the house destined for the clutches of other children. I think he was right to suggest that it was his turn to own one. As I said in a recent post, every baby should have a patchwork tortoise.

Here are some pictures of the patchwork tortoise under construction. I am using the English paper-piecing patchwork technique, which makes a lovely change from all of the sewing machine chain-piecing I have been doing for my quilt.

Pieces of shell pinned to paper templates

Pieces of shell pinned to paper templates

Back of tortoise shell. Pieces sewn together with tiny hand stitches. Paper will be removed when all shell pieces are sewn together.

Back of tortoise shell. Pieces sewn together with tiny hand stitches. Paper will be removed when all shell pieces are sewn together.

Front of tortoise shell almost complete

Front of tortoise shell almost complete. You can see the basting stitches I used to keep the paper in place under the fabric.

Almost ready to quilt…

All I need now is my 9 metres of backing fabric to arrive, a friend with a really big wooden floor (check) and hundreds of safety pins (check).

Finished quilt top 3

Cheeky, pleased “I’ve made a quilt” smile and a bag of cotton batting
Finished quilt top 2

You can see the colours really well in this shot

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